By Adam White, dramaturg
What were the acts of legislation King Henry VIII championed that Thomas More opposed? What were the laws Thomas More stood up against, the laws that ultimate led to his execution?
While A Man for All Seasons mostly references the Act of Supremacy of 1534, there were actually two more acts that were passed in England that play an important role in the story of Thomas More and King Henry VIII: the Submission of the Clergy Act of 1533 and the Act of Succession of 1534 (also known as ‘The First Act of Succession’). Understanding all three acts clarifies what King Henry VIII was changing in England and what Thomas More opposed; both historical figures are illuminated in these documents.
Let’s take a brief look at each:
Submission of the Clergy Act of 1533
This act went into effect shortly after King Henry VIII was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Because of this law, the clergy could not meet in convocation without the King’s permission, nor could they create constitutions or propose canon changes with the King’s approval. All existing canon had to be approved by a royal committee as well. While the Church of England had already begun to separate itself from the Catholic Church, this act approved by both church and state widened the gap between the two institutions. Much of the original act has been changed or repealed since 1533, but you can see the text for the Submission of the Clergy Act of 1533 here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/aep/Hen8/25/19
The Act of Succession of 1534
This act was the last in the flurry of legislation passed at the beginning of 1534. This was the law that declared King Henry VIII’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon invalid and his marriage with Anne Boleyn official. This also meant that King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon’s children were declared bastards, and that any offspring King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had would be England’s true royal line. Read the text of this act at http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/firstactofsuccession.htm
The Act of Supremacy of 1534
This would be the first in a couple of Acts of Supremacy in English history. This act named King Henry VIII ‘the only supreme head of the Church of England called Anglican Ecclesia.’ This was also the act that required all the citizens of England swear an oath that Anne Boleyn was King Henry VIII’s true wife. Read the text for the First Act of Supremacy here: http://www.britainexpress.com/History/tudor/supremacy-henry-text.htm
It is readily apparent after a brief scan of these text what it was that Thomas More disagreed with. His loyalty to the Catholic Church made it impossible for him to approve of this rapid and radical change, the English Reformation.
King Henry VIII’s perspective is perhaps a bit more difficult to discern. He certainly achieved his goals of gaining control of the Church of England, severing the Church from the Catholic Church, and declaring his marriage to Anne Boleyn valid, but what were his personal convictions? How did he come to believe in this change? Was it simply because he desired a male heir and wanted a new wife, or was there deep spiritual belief that guided his actions?
These are questions to approach in another post, I think. It is fascinating to think that much of the Protestant movement we owe to men like King Henry VIII and reformers like Martin Luther, and yet Thomas More (to whom we also much) saw these men as threats to Christianity.
Truly, diving into history reveals the nuances in our relationships with many icons and institutions around us that we may take for granted.
“The First Act of Succession, 1534. Full Text.” The First Act of Succession, 1534. Full Text. Luminarium Project, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
“Henry VIII.” The Official Website of The British Monarchy. The Royal Household, 2008. Web. 02 Oct. 2013.
“Henry VIII ‘s Act of Supremacy (1534) – Original Text.” The Act of Supremacy (1534) Original Text. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.
“Saint John Fisher (English Priest).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
“Submission of the Clergy.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.
“Submission of the Clergy Act 1533.” Submission of the Clergy Act 1533. The National Archives (UK), n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.